Power forward Joe Smith was goofing around after practice one day in training camp, trying to make a basket while lying on his back about 15 feet from the hoop. After four near misses he finally banked in a shot, to the amusement of several teammates. "The hardest part just now," Smith deadpanned after lifting his 6'10" frame off the floor, "was getting up."
Smith's versatility--not to mention his gregariousness--helped make the Bucks one of the NBA's surprise teams last year. A former overall No. 1 pick, in 1995, Smith led Milwaukee in rebounds (8.5 per game), double doubles (20) and horseplay. "Chemistry was very important to us, and Joe was a big part of that," says coach Terry Porter. "He's a jokester in the locker room, but on the court he did the grunt work."
Smith, 29, will need to bring his hard hat to work again this season. The Bucks lost underrated big man Brian Skinner, who signed with the 76ers as a free agent, leaving the center spot to unproven Dan Gadzuric and Daniel Santiago. Smith will not only have to man the pivot at times (despite weighing just 225 pounds) but also provide low-post scoring to complement Michael Redd, Desmond Mason and Keith Van Horn.
Smith says he's up to the challenge. After bouncing around with five teams in nine seasons, including two stints with the Timberwolves, he's just glad to be wanted. "In Minnesota, I was always in Kevin Garnett's shadow," says Smith. "Here it's more fun because anybody can get hot on any given night, and we're not always looking for one guy to carry us."
If Smith can continue to make contributions on and off the court, the Bucks won't have to worry about being flat on their backs at season's end, looking up at most of the teams in the East. --Marty Burns
ENEMY LINES an opposing team's scout sizes up the Bucks
Losing their starting center and their point guard--Brian Skinner, who signed with Philadelphia, and T.J. Ford, who's out indefinitely with a back injury--is going to make it hard for them to equal last season's .500 record. They wore down teams by pushing the ball, but to play up-tempo you have to defend and rebound; Skinner was critical in both those areas.... Dan Gadzuric is athletic, but he isn't a smart player, and it's easy to knock him off-balance because he has small feet. Daniel Santiago has good skills, but he's less mobile than Gadzuric, and the same can be said of inexperienced Zaza Pachulia.... They have to hope that Keith Van Horn, Joe Smith and Toni Kukoc come up with huge years. They're capable of big games, but none have the assertive personality it takes to be a star. Van Horn is the perfect example: He lacks confidence, and when he misses the first couple of shots, he's not necessarily going to keep shooting.... I'm amazed by Michael Redd's work ethic. I thought he'd have trouble when he first came into the league because he shot mainly with his arms. He's transformed his shot by learning to use his legs more, and he's gotten better at creating space for himself. He isn't a natural talent--he just works his butt off.... Desmond Mason is better in the up-and-down game; when the defense is set in the half-court, he still hasn't learned to create his own shot off the dribble and knock downjumpers.... Ford was going to be a big part of their future, pushing the tempo along with Redd and Mason. He has a huge heart, but I wouldn't have drafted him last year because of his size [5'10", 165 pounds] and his preexisting spinal condition.
Like the Mavericks, the Bucks cracked the top 10 in scoring for the fifth straight year. Only the Lakers (10) and Kings (six) have longer active streaks.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
with 2003--04 statistics
Record: 41--41 (6th in East)
Points scored: 98.0 (4th in NBA)
Points allowed: 97.0 (21st)
Coach: Terry Porter
(second season with the Bucks)
MIKE JAMES [NEW ACQUISITION]
KEITH VAN HORN
NEW ACQUISITION *PVR Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 86)